Feedback on an article describing a criminal justice system program

Here is my reply to ‘can you just check the article’ with the it’ll-take-two-minutes tone. Over an hour later, including my other blog about budget assimilation, here is my feedback:

I’m easy about either the team artwork or the Working Group logo being used, that’s great, thank you. If its our team’s artwork and people do connect the article to my work, or our team’s work, I thought I better go through the article with what we call “The Matrix”. Indigenous academics are used to being treated harshly and used to having people complain to us about what we got wrong so we are very thorough in our work, to really be socially just. Exhausting, but good.

Perhaps the title could be ‘Hearing about Elders’ work among people in prison’  ? Our meeting wasn’t really engagement with communities as such, as your title currently says. We only talked to one Aboriginal government staff member.

I think say ‘people in prison’ (not Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in prison) because in my experience the Elders will support anyone and everyone and they seem to never say no to or exclude non-Indigenous people, and I’ve heard countless times how much non-Indigenous management staff gain from Elders visiting prisons.

As per Marshall Project keep using ‘people in prison’ and so the phrase ‘community issues which may affect a prisoner’s behaviour…’ could be altered. I’d reframe to be something like ‘support the health and wellbeing of people in prison’ as it might be beyond behaviour, and the criminology focus on behaviour of people in prisons is very harshly critiqued recently in Australia.

Also, the word ‘reoffending’ – we generally avoid use of that until we know that we are referring only to people who are sentenced, and proven to have broken the law. There are really large numbers of people in prison on remand, so, the police have picked them up, and because often of discriminatory bail laws e.g. requiring an mainstream Australian address and large amount of money, that some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people don’t have access to, we see Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people over-represented in prisons on remand – especially women who can’t return home due to violence. So, they’re not really legally ready to be labelled ‘offenders’ or prisoners. Generalising can be the more respectful option unless we are really sure each person in the population has been sentenced – usually very hard to tell and taking the gentle approach fits with a health discipline approach.

I wondered about changing the third para to put the positive framing first then end in ‘resolving communication issues between correctional staff…’ I admit I was triggered into bad memories from that – probably building up the strengths first then putting the negative issue is best. I think the issues are well beyond communication also, so, perhaps just ‘issues’ as I am sure the Elders would also have to call out racism, discriminatory treatment, violence, and as we’ve seen in the news this week sexual violence and one staff member on a murder charge.

It’s best if we use ‘pass on’ rather than death where possible too.

And maybe instead of ‘represent 20 communities’ – they might not be elected to represent as such, but might just be ‘from’ 20 communities – bit safer.

Perhaps the article could have a one-line intro e.g ‘As part of hearing about the work Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people do in the criminal justice system, some of the PiP Project team were fortunate to meet with XXX from the Elders Visiting Program’

Is there any sense of how long the program has been operating? Given the article does not quote evidence for effectiveness, the concept of sustainability over time can be one way to ascertain its value. Its ok if not – other states and jurisdictions with Elders visiting programs may wonder why we only report on NT Elders’ actions and in a sense invisiblise others? We have always been told as part of healing informed, trauma aware professional capability (with Healing Foundation teaching, beyond ‘trauma informed’) to look for where we exclude others, even if we intend to or not. Then, see if we can add a little something to justify why we are focussing on one particular group, e.g. NT Elders, which is ok, just needs a few words to pin our actions down with awareness for integrity.

The statement ‘address First Nations Peoples employment issues’ – I think could be deleted… this is a much bigger issue outside what Elders can do. I couldn’t find evaluation or evidence of effectiveness in achieving this aim, and I suspect they don’t. With the second part of the sentence ‘help improve the ratio’ – the evidence shows the ratio worsening generally, so, that’s evidence they don’t meet this aim and we are best to delete that. Also, from a public health perspective we know it shouldn’t be up to Elders to change employment or that ratio – this is well beyond them with the precursors from colonisation and economic and social policies having a role, and responsibility. Even if the NT EVP uses this information to describe what they do, I think we shouldn’t – and, chances are the Elders didn’t set these aims, or write the pamphlet. If we don’t have clarity about the extent to which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have self-determined a government program, I always steer away from writing such points and write a bit more generally. I think keep the focus on the support Elders provide – this reads the best and probably reflects their role in reality, in my experience.

Sorry for the long email – thought it best to go through the points than not, sincerely, and do let me know,

A PS from me now… doesn’t sit right that I apologise but I’m not aplologising for my content, but for the long email at 8am. That sux.

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